A Forty-Year Hiatus until I Heard the Reveille Again

by Kate Farrell on July 14, 2013

Tricia Knoll at Yale Graduation

Tricia Knoll at Yale Graduation

by Tricia Knoll

The Best College Verse of 1970  (Laureate Press)–poem printed on page one:

            “A Scene”

In the black silken lap of Meurtra La Fois
Lies the drooling quiet head of Cornelius, her son,
Whose eyes slowly spin in rhythm
With the gray curls of his dusty hair.
Three bluebirds watch the motionless solitude
And study the angle of the reclining eyes.
A moment ago they chirped a reveille
But only a black crackling fold
Unwound to chase the fly from her knee
Into the monotonous gray humid sky.

The anthology’s forward warned that a few included poets might never write anything as worthy again. I didn’t expect it would be over forty years until I tried to publish a poem again. I had no Emily Dickinson shoebox fantasy – life kept me busy in between.

“A Scene” was my statement to myself in graduate school at Yale about faith – looking at what was happening in 1970, I could not believe any benevolent being watched over me or our government. Meurtra was a defeated Pieta. Tear gas wafted over New Haven following protests over the trials of Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins. I breathed it.

Ms. Murder the Faith and her drooling son represent that lassitude, paralysis, the loss of faith in goodness, government, and community. I watched the news of the revelation of the bombing of Cambodia from the Yale Law School dining room – where Bill and Hilary ate.

I’ve always scribbled poetry in cheap notebooks. Typed them up when we still had typewriters and pasted them in scrapbooks. Some time in the ’80s I switched to using an Apple IIE – much to the amusement of the young man who recently sold me an iPhone.

As the end of the school year 1970 approached, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) asked graduates to forego the cost of cap and gown — donations welcomed at SNCC. I didn’t have much money. I’d lived in California — it made sense to me to show up at my Yale graduation proud-to-be-me in my black cowboy hat, cowgirl boots, no bra under a pale pink t-shirt, jeans, and a macrame belt a friend made of maroon and blue yarn. A blue peace symbol wrapped around my arm. I washed my long hair and let it go. Sandals. My feet were clean.

The wire services spread a picture of me dubbed nationally as “Yale graduation 1970.” Front page of the New York Daily Mirror, headline feature in U.S. News and World Report where my father saw it. He withdrew a loan he had offered to get me through the summer to my first days of teaching.

For ten years I taught high school English. First in New Haven, then in Portland, Oregon. In 1980, I sat grading a pile of essays and decided it was time to make my own comma errors. I freelanced, never making enough to call it a livelihood. I took up public relations for a non-profit. Then divorced and needed more income. Working for a water utility, I wrote annual reports, conservation brochures, a blog about municipal drinking water, a blog during a month’s service to help restore water service to New Orleans post-Katrina. I wrote to bring home paychecks. My pile of archived poems grew slowly, but it did grow.

In 2007, I retired. I reread Leaves of Grass. I inventoried my scraps of poetry. Those bluebirds still sang a reveille – this time I listened.

I understand the role of that 1970 fly — what annoys us makes us move. I grab the privilege I’ve been given to weigh in on issues — women’s rights, equal opportunities for people with disabilities, food safety and security, peace, climate change, and the dwindling of species — through poetry.

I woke up.

Bio: Tricia Knoll is a Portland, Oregon poet, master gardener, runner, dancer, and hula hooper. Her poetry has recently appeared in Windfall – A Journal of Poetry of Place, Flycatcher – A Journal of Native Imagination, Elohi Gadugi Journal, VoiceCatcher, Muddy River Poetry Review and others. Her haiku has appeared in haiku journals. Two of her poems are included in anthologies: Manifest West by Western Press Books and Seek It: Artists and Writers Do Sleep by Red Claw Press. She is a regular contributor to New Verse News—and has written a second poem about bluebirds.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara Etgen-Baker July 14, 2013

Tricia–both your poem and your blog post moved me. Like you, I let life get in the way of my voice. I buried my creativity for almost 40 years–not deep enough, though, that it couldn’t be excavated 🙂

But when I did wake up, I found a shovel and unearthed that which I had buried back in the fiery days of my youth. Throughout the years, though, I kept journals and always took on even technical writing tasks–hoping to keep my voice and ability close at hand. I’m grateful to have grown up in the 60s and 70s and am even more grateful to rekindle the fire.

Hats off to you, Tricia. You’re an inspiration!

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Kathleen Ryan July 15, 2013

Ah, Tricia. So glad I know you. Long enough now to celebrate your voice. Now 70, I recall having my head up my ass or in the diaper pail during those 60s and 70s. I watched a documentary of the civil rights movement recently, and realized how much I missed, even though I lived through it…and cared.

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